Anthony Blinken This Thursday he redoubled his calls for Israel to comply with international law and does not affect civilians in the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
On his third trip to the Middle East since the war began on October 7, the US Secretary of State affirmed that the United States remains committed to supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. But he also said that It is imperative that Israel protect civilians if it launches major military operations in southern Gaza.
His message chimes with the Joe Biden administration’s shifting rhetoric on the war, which began as full-throated support for Israel’s response to Hamas attacks but gradually moderated as the number of Palestinian civilian casualties rose. began to increase drastically. The death toll and scale of destruction have drawn widespread international criticism, including from members of President Biden’s Democratic Party.
Meeting in Jerusalem just hours after Israel and Hamas agreed at the last minute to a third extension of a ceasefire deal under which Israel has halted most military activity in exchange for the release of hostages held of the terrorist group, Blinken assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he could count on US support.
But it added that such support requires “compliance with international humanitarian law” by Israel, and “urged Israel to take all possible measures to prevent harm to civilians,” the State Department said.
To avoid a further increase in civilian casualties, Blinken “underscored the imperative to take into account humanitarian and civil protection needs in southern Gaza prior to any military operations there,” the Department added.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in southern Gaza after fleeing their homes in the north of the territory due to the conflict, and US officials have been warning Israel that any offensive in the south of the Palestinian enclave must take into account the security of the civilian population in that area.
Additionally, Blinken “urged that immediate steps be taken to “Hold settler extremists responsible for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.” and said that the United States attaches great importance to resuming a peace process that ultimately leads to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Israeli officials have promised the United States on multiple occasions that Israeli settler violence will be punished, but Palestinians have complained of inaction on that front. And Netanyahu opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, having told Israelis that he is the only political leader who can prevent it.
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement about the meeting with Blinken that made no mention of settler violence or the two-state solution.
Instead, in a recorded message, the prime minister noted that his conversations with Blinken had taken place shortly after an attack claimed by Hamas in which Two Palestinians opened fire on travelers at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people.
Netanyahu claimed he told Blinken: “This is the same Hamas that carried out the terrible massacre of October 7, the same Hamas that is trying to murder us everywhere. I told him: We swore, and I swore, to eliminate Hamas. Nothing will stop us”.
“We will continue this war until we achieve the three objectives: freeing all our hostages, completely eliminating Hamas and ensuring that Gaza never faces such a threat again,” said the Israeli president.
Blinken met with Netanyahu and his war cabinet in Jerusalem before traveling to the occupied West Bank to meet with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and then return to Tel Aviv, where he met with the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the opposition leader Yair Lapid.
In his meeting with Abbas, Blinken focused on efforts to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza and condemned attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank. The head of North American diplomacy told Abbas that he “would continue to insist on full accountability of those responsible,” according to the State Department.
Blinken also told Abbas that “the United States remains committed to advancing tangible steps toward a Palestinian state.”
Defense Minister Gallant repeatedly referred to the fight against Hamas as “a just war” that would not end until Israel’s goals were achieved.
“We will fight Hamas until we prevail, no matter how long it takes.”, he told Blinken. “It is a just war. It’s a war to (defeat) Hamas, Gaza’s ISIS, and it’s a war to bring the hostages back home. “As long as it takes.”
Blinken maintained that Thursday had “started in a very terrible and negative way with another terrorist attack that claimed the lives of innocent Israelis in Jerusalem, a reminder of what Israel and every Israeli citizen has to face every day.”
“We condemn it and we also mourn the loss of these innocent lives as we mourn the loss of any innocent life,” he said, adding that at the same time the truce had been extended.
“We want all the hostages to come home (…) We want to see if this can continue. Of course, that would be good, and it has also allowed much more humanitarian aid to reach Gazans who need it. But it will depend on Hamas if it continues to do so,” said the Secretary of State.
Blinken will conclude his final Middle East tour in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, where he will discuss the situation in Gaza with Arab leaders gathered in Dubai for the COP28 climate change conference.
(With information from AP)